WASHINGTON — In 1989, several homeless children offered to pump Karin Walser’s gas in exchange for any spare change. She didn’t have any cash, but offered to take them to the zoo instead. This act sparked the creation of Horton’s Kids, a non-profit organization built to empower at-risk children in southeast D.C.’s subsidized housing apartment complex, Wellington Park.
Horton’s Kids started with Walser and her friends volunteering their time to mentor and tutor these children, and has since expanded to a community resource center built within the Wellington Park community. Within this bulletproof safe community center, children are provided with meals, school supplies and access to computers.
Billy Fettweis, Horton’s Kids development director, said providing for the children is a big job.
“We meet the basic needs of children," Fettweis said. "We provide about 35,000 meals per year. We provide vision screenings. We provide coats in the winter, and meals at Thanksgiving and hats in the summertime,”
Children are provided hands on help, such as tutoring and mentorship, to help them succeed in their education. The same opportunities Walser once offered, like field trips, are still given to the children as enrichment to broaden their horizons.
“We work with some of the most at risk children in Washington D.C. and empower them to graduate from high school ready for college, career and life,” Fettweis said. Since these programs have been implemented, the Wellington Park community has seen a significant change.
According to Fettweis, Horton’s Kids works with about 500 children in the neighborhood, many of which families’ income does not surpass $10,000 annually, and the program’s high school graduation rates have more than doubled the neighborhood’s average.
Horton’s Kids has worked to build partnerships with federal agencies that provide space for programs free of charge, as well as help recruit volunteers. The organization was offered space in the Rayburn House Office Building in 2001, and by 2004 was invited to add a third tutoring day by the United States Department of Education. Ten years later, Horton’s Kids was offered a partnership with the Department of Transportation to provide evening tutoring specifically for the older youth in the community.
“We’ve all worked hard to expand our organization, so we can reach more children and give them even more resources to use,” Jina Simmons, Horton’s Kids youth development director said.
Although Horton’s Kids has expanded into an organization with several staff members on board, volunteers are still essential to the community outreach.
“We still get hundreds of volunteers every year,” Fettweis said. “We definitely retained that volunteer spirit that is so central to where our identity began.”
Volunteers are encouraged to come into the community center to provide homework help and mentorship for the children. Those interested in helping out at Horton’s Kids are encouraged to visit their website at https://www.hortonskids.org/.